December 12, 2013

WACA, England's blackhole

England need to cross a statistical hurdle of stellar proportions if they are to win the third Ashes Test

No light at the end of the WACA tunnel for England © Getty Images

The WACA has seldom been a happy place for England's Test team. Never, in the past 25 years. Six Tests, six defeats, a collective bowling average of 39 (their seventh worst out of the 29 Test venues where England have played at least three Tests since 1988), and a collective batting average of 19, making it England's worst venue with the bat over the past quarter of a century - their worst on any ground in that time.

In terms of venues at which to begin one of the greatest comebacks in the history of English sport, it is about as auspicious as a plump baby seal booking in for swimming lessons in a shark tank.

If England are to avoid surrendering the Ashes in the third Test of five for the sixth time in their last seven tours to Australia, it will take a Herculean effort. They have the players to do it. Whether those players can find the runs and wickets to do it is, of course, an entirely different kettle of out-of-form fish. It would, obviously, help if they stop hitting the ball in the air to fielders on the leg side - a strategy with little historical success - and if Australia's rampant destroyers with bat and ball can be reminded of the frailties that engulfed their game and their team relatively recently. Part A of that ought to be possible; part B might be.

Confectionery Stall Prediction: Australia to win by six wickets, or 143 runs.

Confectionery Stall Prediction Rate For This Series So Far: 0%.

And now, in advance of England's efforts to overcome historical precedent, a form book that contains some rude numbers and fruity language, and their own technical glitches with bat, ball and hands, a deluge of stats.

(Warning: these numerical nuggets are unlikely to prompt proud English cricket fans to rush out for that St George's Cross facial tattoo they have been vacillating over until the statistical time was right.)

* In the five Tests since Australia were obliterated at Lord's by a potent combination of England and themselves, their batsmen have collectively averaged 39.5 runs per wicket, and scored at 58 runs per 100 balls. England's have averaged 25.5, with a strike rate of 44. No England bowler has kept his economy rate below 3.2.

* Australia's bowlers have struck on average every 36 balls in England's two first innings in the series so far - currently the best first-innings strike rate any team has managed in a series against England since 1899.

● Australia's current economy rate of 2.59 is their best in an Ashes series since 1993, and their best in a home Ashes since 1978-79. England's batting strike rate for the year of 45.0 is their lowest since 2001.

* Matt Prior became the second wicketkeeper ever to bag five Test ducks in a year. Australia's Wally Grout did so in 1961, heroically achieving the anti-milestone in just 13 innings (compared to Prior's 22). Previously, no England keeper had ever scored four ducks in a year. In the process, the England gloveman equalled the record for most ducks by an England player in a year - nine players had done so previously (including Panesar and Anderson twice each). Prior's anti-joy was short-lived however - four overs later, Anderson bagged his sixth quacker of 2013, setting a new England record.

* England's numbers 6 to 11 in this series collectively averaged 11.5 in the first two Tests - currently, albeit only after two matches, their third worst such figure in an Ashes series, behind only 1886-87 and 1956. Their average partnership for the fifth to tenth wickets of 13.6 is currently the second worst performance by an English middle and lower order in any series of more than one match, beaten only by the 1998 home series against South Africa.

● From all three of those series, however, England emerged victorious. We know how exhaustive (and, perhaps, exhausting) England's preparations are. Perhaps their tail-end subsidences are a statistical stratagem based on these three series wins that will inevitably bring glorious success come Sydney in January. Perhaps not.

● By comparison, in England's three recent Ashes series wins, their numbers 6 to 11 have averaged 24.8 in last summer's victory, 29.1 in Australia three years ago, and 28.3 in 2009 - all in England's top ten mid-to-low order Ashes series collective averages. Australia's 6 to 11 are collectively averaging 50.7 after the first two Tests, which is currently their best ever in an Ashes series.

* Alastair Cook in 13 first innings since his hundreds in Mumbai and Kolkata last year: average 21, strike rate 34, with two half-centuries, and a highest score of 62.

* England have failed to score a hundred in the past three Tests. If no one posts three figures in Perth, it will be their first four-Test run without a hundred since 1999, when their batsmen failed to trouble the honours boards in six consecutive matches.

* Brad Haddin, having scored 94, 53 and 118, has become the second wicketkeeper to pass 50 in his first three innings in an Ashes series. Gilchrist did so in his one innings in each of the first three Tests in 2001 (152, 90 and 54), which was also the only previous occasion on which a keeper had scored 90 or more in two innings in an Ashes series. Haddin's current series is the 11th instance of a keeper hitting three 50-plus scores in an Ashes series.

* England were bowled out for under 200 in their first three innings of an Ashes for the first time since Gregory and MacDonald blasted them away in 1921. Evidently, England have not learned as much about playing high-paced bowling in the intervening 92 years as they might have done. (They would have also been out for less than 200 in all four innings in the first two Tests of 1950-51 had they not plumped for a sticky-wicket-affected declaration at 68 for 7 in their first innings of the series.) (But let's not harp on about that, it was ages ago.)

● England have lost more Tests in Perth since 1990 than they have lost at Old Trafford or Trent Bridge, despite only playing there once every four years. If they lose for a seventh consecutive time, Perth will hop into joint second place on the list of grounds where England have lost most often since 1990, behind only Lord's where they have played 42 Tests in that time (losing ten of them).

● Cricketing gods, please have mercy.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer